Every night on American TV you can see repeating commercials to raise money for young people who’ve had limbs blown off. It might be cruel to ask the following question in the presence of these veterans, but millions of other people have been forced to pay for all of this, and they need to be protected as well.
And so, with condolences to the young people who signed up for these wars believing they were actually defending the good, we must ask this question: What was the payoff?
Some people will evade this question by maintaining that “freedom was preserved,” but that statement rests on a nebulous and self-serving definition of freedom… a definition that boils down to, “What we have is freedom.” Or it’s variant: “It’s worse in North Korea; therefore we’re free.” These lines of reasoning, of course, are fallacious.
The 16 Years’ War (Heading for 20 or More)
So, with apologies where due, I must assert that the payoff from all the bloodshed in Afghanistan and Iraq has been negligible. Both places are still a mess, and both places will likely remain a mess for a long, long time.
Almost 16 years of war have gone by in Afghanistan and more than 14 in Iraq. I think we should admit that any possibility of a “respectable win” is long past.
So, what was it all for? To make people feel they were getting revenge after 9/11? Was that really worth the cost? Bin Laden (whose official death story reeks) was sick and dying anyway. Or to “get” Hussein? He had been a US ally for many years before he was pushed into the role of the villain. So how reasonable is revenge in that case?
Were these two snorts of emotional cocaine worth their price?
Ah Yes… The Price
War is insanely expensive, so I’ve decided to crunch the numbers on this, and I think you’ll want to see them, especially if you’re an American.
And so, here, courtesy of Wikipedia, are the costs of the US military-industrial complex for the years 2001 through 2017:
2001 $335 Billion
2002 $362 Billion
2003 $456 Billion
2004 $491 Billion
2005 $506 Billion
2006 $556 Billion
2007 $625 Billion
2008 $696 Billion
2009 $698 Billion
2010 $721 Billion
2011 $717 Billion
2012 $681 Billion
2013 $610 Billion
2014 $614 Billion
2015 $637 Billion
2016 $522 Billion
2017 $524 Billion
That comes to a staggering $9.751 trillion. And we should remember that this is for a nation bordered on the east and west by immense oceans, and on the north and south by nations that are more likely to dissolve than to invade. On top of that, The War on Drugs and other programs are only partly accounted for in these numbers.
The costs of just the Iraq and Afghan wars – if they could realistically be separated from the rest of the military-industrial complex – would be substantially lower. One report (PDF) has those costs for 2001 through 2011 at $1.28 trillion. Extending that figure through 2017 would yield a rough cost of $2.2 trillion.
But since no war can be fought without the underlying military-industrial complex (bases, training, recruitment, hospitals, logistics and so on), let’s split the difference between the total budget and $2.2T and call the money spent by the US government on these two wars $6 trillion.